A survey of how English and Welsh local authorities regulate industrial installations has revealed that many still do not inspect installations frequently enough.
The same observation has been made in previous annual reports produced by the Environment Department (DEFRA). However, the government is so concerned by the figures that environment minister Lord Hunt has now written to all local authorities in England to highlight the issue.
"Substantial improvement in inspection performance [is needed] for authorities to be credible pollution control regulators", the department admitted in a press statement.
Published on 7 January, the report concerns facilities regulated under the local authority pollution prevention and control (LAPPC) and local authority integrated pollution prevention and control (LA-IPPC) regimes.
The survey reveals that 31% of authorities failed to make the required number of full inspections of LAPPC installations.
According to guidance, the frequency of inspections and more cursory check inspections should vary with the risk of the process. High-risk installations should receive two full and one check inspection per year but 43% of authorities failed to manage this.
However, over a quarter of authorities conducted more inspections than expected - particularly at low-risk sites.
Similar issues were found with inspection rates for LA-IPPC sites, although only 8% of authorities had conducted fewer full inspections than required.
Derek Allen, executive director of local regulation body LACORS, said councils are "doing a good job" under "difficult circumstances, including resource constraints." Funding issues and problems with recruitment and retention also need attention, he added. He also called for a comprehensive review of appropriate frequencies for inspections for industrial processes, including those regulated by the Environment Agency.
There were 18,913 installations permitted under LAPPC in England and Wales in 2007/08. This marks a rise of 15% from the number reported in the 2006/7 survey (ENDS Report 384, p 20 ). The substantial increase is due largely to all dry cleaners being granted LAPPC permits as part of the implementation of the 1999 EU solvents Directive (ENDS Report 327, p 49 ).
They now form the second most common category of installation, with 3,566 permits. Service stations remain the largest category at 6255 installations, although their number has fallen by 2% since the last report.
There are now 393 LA-IPPC installations, with the coatings sector making up a third of these. Ceramic plants account for a quarter.
Councils initiated five prosecutions in 2007/08, with fines totalling £33,155 in four cases reported to DEFRA. While this is a considerable rise on 2006/07’s total of £1,000, it is similar to levels in earlier years.
Notable cases include Leeds City Council’s prosecution of car superstore chain Carcraft. The firm was found to be re-spraying vehicles without a licence in 2006, despite requesting an application form for a permit two years beforehand. It was fined £11,000 in July 2007.
Glass container manufacturer Stölzle Flaconnage Ltd was also fined £8,000 in the same month by Wakefield Metropolitan District Council. It had continued to breach limits on particulate emissions as abatement equipment had not been installed.
A further £8,000 fine was imposed on Walker Concrete Products Ltd in March 2006, following action by Caerphilly County Borough Council. The company had failed to implement dust control measures.
Seven cautions were accepted in the period. The Colchester subsidiary of major printing firm Polestar was cautioned for failing to report a significant emission event and for breaches of permit conditions. Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council took action against Prince Minerals UK Ltd for depositing ground sand beyond its boundary, caused by poor maintenance of pipework.
A total of 118 enforcement notices were issued to LAPPC installations, with three prohibition notices - similar to levels in previous years. Councils that regulate fewer than 20 LAPPC sites issued a disproportionately low number of notices, the report notes. This is a return to a trend that was broken in 2006/07.
LA-IPPC installations received 11 enforcement notices and no prohibition notices.